Summer is nearly here and many students will be taking temporary or seasonal jobs. But beware positions promising travel and easy money. Tempting as it may be to hang out with others your age and see the country, many of these jobs may end up costing you money and in extreme cases, can even put you in peril.
"Eliminate Vector, and the world will be a safer place for college students," blogs Will Robertson, a media technician in Salida, Calif. "I needed a job, saw the ad in the college newspaper, and made contact with the local office, located in Modesto," he said in an email. "I was nervous about the job at first, but went with it as it seemed like a good idea at first. But, I grew suspicious of the company quickly and was very uncomfortable with the door-to-door selling aspect of the job."
Vector Marketing, the seller of Cutco knives, in spite of its glossy-looking online ad and the inclusion of the company in college career day programs, has been repeatedly accused of using deception to profit "at the college students'' expense" by requiring students to buy the products up front.
Vector's Director of Academic Relations, Sarah Baker Andrus, said in response: "Many thousands of students have benefited from the work experience with Vector, gaining confidence and interpersonal skills." She stands behind the "experience that Vector provides and recognizes that while sales are not for everybody, it can be a wonderful way to start a career and gain important and valuable business skills." Andrus referred Money College to two students who corroborated her position.
Unfortunately, Vector does not have the market cornered on taking advantage of gullible college students.
Traveling sales crews recruit students to travel around the country, and knock on doors selling soaps, educational materials, and magazines. It sounds exciting, but these jobs can be dangerous. "I'm sitting in a cheap motel in New Orleans right now, stuck." wrote Seth Hunt, a Alabama student who thought he would be doing honest hard work. Instead he found himself in a dangerous environment that included fights, drug abuse, vulgar incidents and sleeping on the floor with four or five other students in the room. Hunt was given $20 a day to live on and ultimately called home for a ticket back. I caught up to him online, where he implored me to express just how dangerous traveling sales crews are.
On March 25, 1999, seven young adults were killed (and five others injured) when their van overturned in Janesville, Wis., All were part of a traveling sales crew, selling magazines door-to-door. The family and friends of one of the victims, 18-year-old Malinda Turvey, worked to pass legislation regulating this type of work in that state. Wisconsin's Senate Bill 4 -- also known as "Malinda's Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act" -- become active on April 10, 2010. The bill extends some protection to those hired as temporary sales crews and places stricter restrictions on the companies, but seems limited in scope and confined to just one state. Still, the group behind the legislation continues to make the public aware that by purchasing items from door-to-door sales crews, they are partially responsible for crimes that occur on these jobs.
"The National Consumers League issues clear advice to young people thinking about working on a traveling sales crew: don't do it." said Mr. Reid Maki, director of social responsibility and fair labor standards at the National Consumers League. Maki points to the discovery last fall of Jennifer Hammond's body (Hammond disappeared from a traveling sales crew in 2003) and the beating of two young people who tried to quit a sales crew last summer. "Traveling sales crews have long been on NCL's list of the 'five worst teen jobs'," says Maki. "In addition to the safety risks, many workers in traveling sales crews are not compensated at the levels they expected, with charges for food and housing deducted from wages."
Universal Subscription Agency also hires college students and teenagers as salespeople and the Better Business Bureau warns that the company uses deceptive business practices and has logged more than 400 complaints against the seller of magazine subscriptions. Universal did not respond to our questions.
Primerica (and other insurance sales companies) are legitimate businesses with high BBB ratings across the United States. Primerica is also a member of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). They do not, however, qualify as a good job for the average college student, according to the College Board, "Many beginning insurance agents can't find enough clients to earn a living. If you don't want to end up in their shoes, you'll need a college degree, sales talent, and interpersonal skills."
For this reason, Primerica has been labeled by websites and organizations such as Scam.com, Consumer Fraud Reporting and the Consumer Complaints Board as a possible scams where unqualified college students are recruited as independent financial consults. "Working for an insurance company while still in school was very hard," said Thomas Bostwick, a recent graduate from Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga., who tried working with an undisclosed insurance agency. "College students are better off getting a 9-5 job that they can keep year round and work around their schedule." Primerica did not respond to Money College's inquiries on the subject. (UPDATE: Primerica did contact us after this story ran and has a statement we've included below.)
Talent scouts help beautiful and talented people become stars. This is what Aisha, a close family member of mine was told when she replied to an ad that appeared to be an actual salaried position. She drained her savings to fly to Atlanta for an interview that turned out to be a large group presentation. "I do recall that after the presentation to all of the applicants, we were told to go out recruiting at public places (i.e. malls, restaurants, etc...), not at specific venues or events for such talent/models. It was uncomfortable; I felt disingenuous and almost obligated to select people at random," she said. This experience taught her to always ask questions pertaining to salary, benefits, job description, amount of time traveling, and travel expenses (i.e. specific travel reimbursement).
Several of these agencies have closed down due the fraud claims but new versions of such jobs are still cropping up and students should beware.
In addition to asking key questions before the interview, college students should avoid all commission based jobs and be wary of "business opportunities" with sketchy or mysterious job descriptions. Instead, college students should look for jobs in local, established businesses with a clear hourly wage and work descriptions. According to Thomas Bostwick, the former insurance salesman and student, "The best job I had in school was as a restaurant server. It is easier to take work off to study for tests,and you are able to work when you are available."
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